Seasonal settlement near Stonehenge: “We’ve never seen anything like it before”

I like learning.  I like learning about people, and about our past, and about anthropology and archeology and some parts of history.  It’s interesting to me to see who we once were, to revel in and possibly unravel the mysteries of who we could be.  A part of this is extrapolation.  A part of this is examining the facts and hypothesizing what might have been.  A part of this is amazement at new discoveries and presenting those findings to the public.  However, I get quite annoyed at the sensationalism that often accompanies such publication.  The discoveries themselves are quite amazing enough – there’s no need to add hype to get us excited about the possibilities.

Take the recent studies undertaken of Stonehenge.  Fact: Carbon dating of burials has proven that the site was a burial ground for at least 500 years, 400 years longer than previously thought.  Fact: At least one burial occurred at the time the standing stones were being erected.  Fact: a nearby settlement, most likely related to Stonehenge, was seasonally occupied in midwinter and midsummer.  Fact: a wooden standing circle at the settlement was oriented towards midwinter sunrise, as Stonehenge is towards midsummer sunrise.  None of these facts requires statements to dress them up such as, “we’ve never seen anything like it before”, regarding the settlement, or ‘ The actual building and purpose of Stonehenge remain a mystery that has long drawn speculation from many sources’.  Ok, the second semi-quote is from the article itself, so that can be attributed to the flamboyance of writing for AP, but the first is Mike Parker Pearson, archeology professor at the University of Sheffield in England and head of the Stonehenge Riverside Archaeological Project.  And he’s never seen anything like a settlement near an ancient burial ground.  Or maybe he meant a seasonal settlement by an ancient burial ground.  I will give him that the site must be unique, but really, he’s never seen anything ‘like it’?

I can’t blame anyone getting excited over what they love.  And this new research is probably giving us great insight into how people living and how they respected their dead and even some of what they may have believed.  But I expect more out of respected members of the field.  I expected comments like “We are now investigating the potential of hierarchy at the settlement,” or “these new findings lead us to suspect that Stonehenge may have been a site of central religious meaning in the area.”  I don’t expect hyperpole that leaves me saying ‘duh, of course Stonehenge is a burial site.  There’s giant TOMBSTONES everywhere.’

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The Wilderless.

In the past, the United States was a country of edgeless borders.  Thousands struggled to make a new life on ‘the frontier’, wherever that was and whatever it meant.  We fell in love with the romance of the cowboy.  We dreamed of riches and desolation in the Yukon.  Our hearts followed the young men still challenging the wilderness of the deserts, the high places, and the swamps.  As we ran out of space to explore in our own country, many of us longed for something we thought we’d lost – an innocence of the uncivilized world, or a fierce Mother Nature to pit our strength and determination against.

However, all has not been lost.  There are still some few remaining tribes in odd little corners of the world, in the mountain places or the rainforest of Brazil and Peru, that have little to no contact with the outside world.  I say ‘little to no’ because I feel some contact is evident in our observation and tracking of these tribes.  If we are flying above them in small planes and taking pictures, that’s contact 9especially when they respond by drawing bows).  True, there are efforts to protect these tribes and their traditional land areas from deforestation and illegal logging, and efforts to prevent direct contact that might spread disease.  But even with the awareness and indirect observation of these groups, we are having an effect on them which we cannot predict or change.
I am not saying such tracking is wrong.  I just can’t help but wonder if our best intentions will be realized, or if we will lose once and for all the the wilderness we at one time dreamed of by caring for the last dwellers in those remote places.  I wonder if we can help but change things, as teh toolmakers and dreamers we are.

This is your brain on marshmellows

Researchers conducting studies into the motor cortex of your brain have reported that eating too many marshmellows (or bananas?) could end up making you look like this:

Seriously, though, I am fascinated by this article.  First researchers taught monkeys to feed themselves marshmallows using a joystick.  Been awhile since I’ve seen one of those.  Then they put the monkeys in restraints, put a ‘brain wave interface’ into their motor cortexes which allowed the monkeys to manipulate the arm by brain power alone, and eventually tested the monkey’s ability to operate the arm around obstacles.  Different monkeys tested differently, but there was a 78% rate over 13 days of tests with the best monkey.

The whole thing raises possibilities for the future of prosthetics and even automated production lines.  After all, what couldn’t you do if you can hook your brain up to a machine or robot?  Of course, the researchers caution that these ‘brain-machine interfaces’ have only ever been tested in specific virtual reality settings.  I’d like to know where and when myself – the idea of sticking metal things in my head and possibly being mind controlled does not appeal.  But even if I’m excited about the possibilities on the whole, I do have additional questions.  Why marshmallows and not bananas?  Why joystick training initially?  What constitutes success in the experiment?  Is marshmallow in the eye a failure?  What about when the monkey can’t eat another marshmallow without ralphing?  Is that a failure?  How often each day to they run these tests?

I guess for now the world will have to wait for the combination of peanut butter and chocolate.  No wait, we’re post-Reese’s.  For the combination of brain and machine.

How much caffeine can one body hold?

Whoa.  I wrote this on May 15 and it never got published.  I guess my fingers were too jerky to click the right buttons.  Whoops!  Regardless, you can enjoy it now:

After two 16 oz. glasses of Coke today and a big D&D iced coffee this morning, I’m feeling a little jittery. But then, it’s also Dunkin’ Donuts free iced coffee promotion day. I can basically go to a variety of different locations around the city and get virtually unlimited iced coffee. A woman in my office has already gotten three. I feel like I’m lagging behind. And while I’m not sure I agree that D&D ‘practically invented’ the drink, it is a reasonably tasty coffee-flavored coolness. So why not have more, for free?

I guess it comes down to my own personal drink tolerance. I am a fairly heavy water drinker throughout the day, so I can drink quite a bit of liquid in one sitting without harsh results. And, due to my high metabolism, I process stuff reasonably quickly. Usually this results in coffee and other such beverages making me sleepy, when consumed in quantity. The jag of stimulus is so quick, I barely feel it before my body system depresses itself in reaction. SO, before I can get too sick of the stuff, I’m asleep. Or at least moving very slowly.

Though this is hardly a typical reaction, it does express one central concern of excessive caffeine intake. There is a point of no return. Eventually there are diminishing returns and risks worse than sleep, like heart attack and jumpy liver syndrome (It’s more real than a wandering womb, I guarantee). At what point does the freeness of iced coffee drink become a potential danger? I haven’t yet decided – I’m off to experiment.

Deeply sorry.

Stone issued an apology for her comments regarding Tibet, China’s earthquake, and karma.  My original posting on the topic is here, for more detail.

While I agree that a public apology was the only course of action after Stone’s well-intentioned but inflammatory comments, the Chinese reaction was a bit harsh.  Dior is taking her out of all advertisements in China.  Would the Chinese people really boycott their products if Dior did not make this move?  Even after Stone apologized and promised to help with quake relief work?  I know the whole incident must have been deeply painful for certain people, but we all get hurt a little sometimes.  We all make mistakes.  Can we focus, instead, on the cooperation and friendship that has grown from the quake relief?  Isn’t that still news?

My lovely iron lung.

My friends and I are still fans of the ‘your mom’ jokes.  It’s like fortune cookies ending with ‘in bed’ – almost any phrase, especially an insult, can be recast by tagging ‘your mom’ at the end.  Someone says you’re ugly?  Say “Your mom is ugly.”  Someone implies you’re not astute?  Say “Your mom is dumb.”  There are endless variations to such tags, ranging from ‘your dog’ to ‘your grandpappy’.  Some of them are more creative than others.  Personal favorites from my friends include ‘your baked goods’ and ‘your iron lung’.

Now, iron lungs aren’t naturally funny for the people who still use them.  They may look funny, no matter how many tasteful or fun stickers are plastered to the outside, but in reality they are a very serious and needed piece of equipment.  A real iron lung kept Dianne Odell alive for 50+ years, until power outages and a failure of the backup generator allowed her to slip away.  Iron lungs are still in use for particular medical conditions such as Ondine’s curse (great name for a medical condition), a form of apnea that can happen even when awake.  I would certainly not want to disrespect anyone who must make use of an iron lung.  Nor would I want to upset Ondine.  Still, there is a sense of the ridiculous that surrounds them.  Maybe it’s their big and bulky nature.  Or maybe it’s the fact that I don’t have one, making the ‘your iron lung’ comment completely ridiculous, in the same way that ‘your piebald horse’ would be equally ridiculous.

Wow.  That was pretty good.  I think ‘your piebald horse’ should make the top ten list of ‘your mom’ jokes.

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Ok, I’m not a huge James Bond fan.  I haven’t read any of the books.  Most of the movies, I haven’t watched.  I don’t have any opinion about which Bond was the best Bond, or the worst.  I enjoy ridiculous story lines and And when someone says “Sebastian Faulks is the Daniel Craig of Bond authors”, my only question is who the heck is Daniel Craig.

For some people, it’s their whole life.  Some people also sniff paint, but typically not the same people.  So that’s something, at least.  For the Bond fanatics however, the crazy little island is pulling out all the stops.  For the 100th anniversary of the original writer’s birth, they’ve got navy boats, skimpily dressed models, and lots of publicity, all part of what you’d expect from the Bond name.  Whether or not I see the next movie or read the anniversary or any other Bond novel, I still appreciate the panache.

How much freedom?

While I am a Christian, I am one of those who also believes in religious tolerance.  I believe in setting a good and faithful example, yes, but I am not a proselytizer.  If you are curious, I will share my faith with you.  If you have a faith of your own, I am eager to discuss where we might agree or have differences.  While I plan on raising my children in my own faith, I don’t expect that they will maintain that belief as adults.  Even my own children should eventually have the right to choose.  I am probably among the minority in this expectation, but I think it’s a good minority to belong to.

Elsewhere the same kind of tolerances have been coming under fire.  A book burning that may have happened accidentally highlights the tensions and restrictions on religious action in modern day Israel.  Though the original initiative was simply to collect Messianic and Christian literature distributed in the area, it ultimately included a large number of New Testaments that were burned.  But the question comes as to why these documents were collected in the first place.  Should Christianity have no place in a mostly Jewish community?  Were the local people simply trying to protect their own faith, with results that spiralled out of hand?

It is one thing to protect your children and your home from influences you don’t want.  It is another to bar these same influences from a community.  Raising a child means educating them to the extent that they can make wise decisions for themselves.  It does not mean sheltering them with the idea of protecting them their entire lives.  In some cases, the protection might be necessary for awhile, but should ultimately be eliminated.  Take China for example, and the government’s laws against proselytizing.  When I’m accosted on the train by someone handing out leaflets who sees my cross and wants to talks, I wish we had a similar law.  I wonder if that’s childish of me, and whether I by now should simply be able to deal with people on my own, or at what point my right to privacy and my right not to listen should outweigh another’s right to speak or advocate for what they believe.

Why I’m not your next pop *STAR*

One of the things I like to do is try new things.  I like a wide variety, which is what led me to strange foods, new places, and whole worlds of fun.  I’ve tried the usual trendy sports – snowboarding, rock climbing, white water rafting – as well as more traditional pastimes – knitting, carpentry, gardening.  Heck, I even tried to learn to play viola, despite my fumble fingers.  And I haven’t broken anything yet.

Part of that drive is why I started my photoblog.  I can take pictures!  I can…write stuff!  It’ll be grrreat!  Unfortunately I’ve been neglecting it recently with all the other stuff I’ve been doing, and I have about 50 pictures I want to upload and wax poetic about.  Alas, it has suffered from the second part of most of my new activities – a dying off of interest.  Like so many things – the computer game I started making in China for my sisters, the still life I was doing to learn how to paint with oils, the novel/ screenplay/ autobiography/ terrifying monster of wonderfulness I was going to write with Gina – it has fallen out of my range of vision.  But I will get back to them all – someday.

My new project of ridiculousness is all Gina’s fault.  We were in the car, and she responded to my dumbness about something-or-other with “you should write a song about that”.  Bad Idea.  Now I’m off on the Gina Song Project, and I will not be deterred.  I will have lyrics, I will have music that actually sounds good, and I will have a video to include (but not limited to: a) unicorns b) dragon books (not actual dragons, just dragon BOOKS, mind you).  I’ve already thought about how to include the unicorns, and I think my book will be called Dragon Heads, because that’s not a real book that I know of and it sounds funny.  I think the video will also need to include a bathroom stall.  And with that, I’ll stop giving away all my good ideas.

So far, I’ve produced the basic structure of the song, but I need some serious work on building up the lyrics with instrumentals.  But I’m learning, along the way.  What I’ve learned so far is that contorting your body like a monkey knot to be closer to the built-in microphone does not improve your singing ability.  I’ve also found that such contortions put odd pressures on your lungs and make it much more difficult to sing in key.  Finally, I’ve learned that however much you love them, steel drums do not go with every song.  The Gina Song Project is going to have to take a step back from the islands and rethink.

Is that karma?

Sharon Stone is getting a bunch of flack for a comment she made regarding the earthquake in China recently.  She raised the question as to whether or not the earthquake might be punishment for the Chinese ‘not being nice’ to Tibet.  While it’s a little unclear exactly what she’s talking about (not being nice?  are we in preschool?), I still think there have been overreactions.  Ng See-Yuen of UME for example, is now talking of banning her movies from his theaters.  So let’s ban the legitimate work of countless actors and filmmakers for one person’s possibly disparaging remarks?  Especially when Stone’s comments were possibly meant to be forgiving?  You can decide for yourself – the interview clip is below.

While I myself take offense with the way Stone talks down to the interviewer, there’s a positive spin on the whole thing.  She’s trying to say ‘we should all learn from the Tibetans, and forgive, and unite to help each other when things get tough’.  She’s trying to say her initial reaction to the disaster was negative, but that she reconsidered and eventually felt sympathy for those in need.  She’s trying to continue to garner support for the cause of Tibet’s independence at a time with China’s disaster is pulling attention away from a cause she values.  We can all see and understand that, even while we wish she had done so in a more sympathetic fashion.

Finally friends, if such a disaster really were just punishment for civil rights abuses in Tibet, it wouldn’t have been centered in the western provinces.  It wouldn’t have been centered where a variety of minority groups without real political power would suffer.  It wouldn’t have destroyed a landscape that is beautiful and remote and arouses sympathy around the world.  Sichuan and the other provinces affected are not responsible for Tibet.  Just as I do not always agree with my own government, I continue to love and respect the Chinese people while not reserving the same respect for all the actions of their government.

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